Monday, 22 March 2010
Fiction is always nother country: but JK Rowling's Harry Potter world seems to be an inevitable part of our family's adventures. Here's four places I can recommend for Harry Potter fans, whatever their age:
1 Christ Church Hall, Oxford is Hogwarts' dining hall
We've just been to the Sunday Times Literary Festival in Oxford to listen to three great modern children's writers - Blue Peter's 2009 book winner Ali Sparkes with Frozen in Time, Frank Cottrel Boyce whose written Cosmic, Framed and Millions (and plenty of others) and new on the scene Harriet Goodwin with the excellent Boy Who Fell Down Exit 43.
2 Elephant House (cafe), Edinburgh is Harry Potters's birthplace
Lap up the atmosphere - and the craggy castle views - even though JK Rowling may not visit much now. This also does great breakfasts if you've just got off the night train... See opening times here.
3 Kings Cross Station is home of Platform 9 and three/quarters
Arguably London's best station, currently near the end of its underground revamp, and also the way to Norfolk, Yorkshire, the Lake District and other favourite places...
4 Alnwick Castle, Northumberland is Hogwarts
This castle is a fantastic place to visit and if you get tired of the gardens, the rampards, the Harry Potter memorabilia (especially HP and the Philosopher's Stone), the infamous poison garden, the treehouse cafe - is it possible to get tired of such delights? - then you can head to the famous secondhand bookshopnearby. Barter Books is known as the biggest 2h bookshop in Britain and the source of the recent craze for mugs, key fobs, posters etc telling us to "Keep Calm and Carry On". See Guardian feature here.
5 Isle of Man has Gringots Bank
Might need to check this... but a trip to Isle of Man (take the ferry from Liverpool) exits you not just from England but Europe too - an utterly exotic destination only a couple of sea hours away.
Friday, 12 March 2010
So where's the best place to watch the World Cup this July? I'm asking this less for myself, more as a puzzle. I know one sports writer/lecturer who is taking her toddler to South Africa for the full atmosphere (but worrying as much about which malaria tablets to take as how to get tickets). My Brazilian-based friend plans to come back "home" to London just in case England does really well - I also happen to know he likes being around the UK for the soft fruits season, so that's two draws. Meanwhile his wife thinks it might be more fun in Brazil, just in case her team does really well. While the Dads group from Nell's school look set to fall back on a CAMRA (ie, real) pub near Baker Street that serves Abbot Ale and when they drank there last undoubtedly set up England's recent victory in the friendly against Egypt. A winning ritual should not be broken they claim.
Where you watch and how you get to that place can be a brilliant way of sharing the joys and blows of being a football follower, or it can be rubbish (yes, that's why there's a picture of the rat infested rubbish truck from the recent Rio carnival!). I'm guessing I'll see some of the games with friends and family on outdoor screens, walkable distances from my home.
It's been 10 years - this coming April - since Lola and I took our last flights (first as well in her case as she was not quite two years). Nell is nine years and still hasn't gone on a plane. Pete has flown in the past 10 years but only twice, once for fun and once for work, so our family footprint has stayed low for a significant length of time compared to our friends.
Our no-plane boast is not so great if we compare with our own childhoods - Pete never took a plane journey with his family, it wasn't until he was 18 that he set off for an airport check-in. I think I made one return flight to Northern Ireland as a toddler (apparently noisily confusing nuns with Father Christmas) and then another aged 15 when my Dad suddenly took us all to Paxos, a Greek island.
Our family's experience shows you can have fun at home in the World Cup (why, even Lola was born at the start of the 1998 kickathon), in fact home is probably the only place you can watch every game, keep up to date with every bit of information and still keep that carbon footprint a blistering zero. Here's to an England win...